#14 IOWA 48, MTSU 3: BLUE RAIDER BEATDOWN

By RossWB on September 28, 2019 at 3:27 pm
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© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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The overriding theme from Iowa players and coaches this week was "focus." As in, stay focused and don't overlook the opponent in front of you. During his press appearances, Kirk Ferentz invoked the memories of Iowa's narrow wins over UNI and Arkansas State in 2009. And we can count plenty of other narrow wins (or worse) against teams from Group of 5 conferences or the FCS. This game will not be added to that list. Iowa's focus didn't waver all day and they produced a record-setting performance in blowing Middle Tennessee State off the field, 48-3. 

The record in question? Iowa racked up 644 yards of offense in this game, a new high water mark for the Hawkeyes under Kirk Ferentz (surpassing the previous record of 613 yards against Minnesota in 2005). They generally did whatever they wanted against the Blue Raider defense in this one.

Run the ball? Sure -- Iowa ran the ball 51 times for 351 yards (a nice 6.9 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. That was the first time Iowa had cracked 300 yards rushing since posting 313 yards on the ground in a 56-14 win over Nebraska in 2017. It was the most rushing yards they've had in a game since they busted off 365 yards against Purdue in a 49-35 win over the Boilermakers in 2016. 

Pass the ball? Yep -- Nate Stanley and Spencer Petras combined to go 20/29 for 293 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. All but 17 of those yards came via Stanley, who finished 17/25 for 276 yards and both scoring throws. And those numbers probably could have been a bit better if not for a few untimely drops by his receivers. 

And kudos to Iowa's offensive line as well. MTSU did pick up two sacks on Stanley (though both came on blitzes, if memory serves), but for the most part the Iowa offensive line was dominant in this game. They were blowing the Blue Raiders off the line of scrimmage with regularity in the running game, allowing them to open up big holes, seal the edge, and crush defenders at the next level of attack, too. And they gave Stanley clean pockets with plenty of time to work with most of the day as well. When the offensive line is feasting like they were today, it makes things very, very easy for the entire offense. 

Iowa showed off some solid depth among their skill position players, too. Toren Young had a team high 131 yards on 11 carries (a cool 11.9 ypc), highlighted by a big 52-yard run.

He's Iowa's first 100-yard rusher since Mekhi Sargent went for 173 against Nebraska last year. And Iowa actually came very close to having three 100-yard rushers. Mekhi Sargent had 14 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown, while Tyler Goodson wowed in extended action with 97 yards on 12 carries (and two almost-touchdowns). Seriously: Goodson showed off skills that we've rarely seen in an Iowa running back. He is an incredibly exciting player... and he's only played in four games so far. 

Brandon Smith had six receptions for 71 yards and both Iowa receiving touchdowns, while Tyrone Tracy overcame a few early drops to lead Iowa with 85 yards on three catches. He showed off some impressive speed -- and a wicked spin move.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette had four catches for 60 yards, which he supplemented with two carries on end arounds for 28 yards and a touchdown.

Weird but true: Iowa had four rushing touchdowns in this game, but only one scored by a tailback. He also absolutely destroyed an MTSU defender with a juke: 

Only two Iowa drives all game failed to end in points -- one ended in Iowa's only punt of the day and the second was a missed field goal try by Keith Duncan at the end of the first half. (Duncan was perfect on his other two attempts, fortunately.) Iowa didn't have the advantage of short fields in this game, either; six of their ten drives went 70+ yards. 

The defense kept the Blue Raider offense in check all game long as well. MTSU ended the game with 216 yards of offense on 4.2 yards per play. Outside of two meaningless possessions at the end of each half, MTSU had nine possessions; they punted on eight of them. Four of those drives were three-and-outs. There are a few things we could quibble about on the defensive side of things -- Iowa was only able to add two sacks (one apiece by Cedrick Lattimore and Daviyon Nixon) and they weren't able to force any turnovers -- but those really do feel like quibbles when you're talking about a defensive performance that held an opponent to 200 yards and 3 points and limited them to a grand total of zero plays in the red zone. 

Really, quibbles are the only negatives you can pull from this performance. It might have been nice to see Oliver Martin get a bit more involved in the passing game or to see Ivory Kelly-Martin get a few more carries... but there are only so many snaps to go around, too. Iowa clearly feels very good about its top three (four, if you include Ragaini, and we should) options at receiver and its top three backs... it's just that those Martin isn't in that top three (four) at receiver right now and it certainly looks like Goodson has displaced IKM in the running back pecking order too. So it goes. 

Iowa outclassed Middle Tennessee State on paper and, as it turns out, they badly outclassed them on the field as well. Iowa doesn't always dominate opponents in games like this, but they took care of business with ease today.  Bigger games -- and more difficult opponents -- are fast approaching. We'll take a cruise control win like this when we can get it. 

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